A group of our Thames Discovery Project volunteers met at Greenwich Park to explore the hidden archaeology of the area. TDP FROG, Selina Springbett, reports on the visit…

Unusually, the sky was blue and the clouds were high when we converged on the Blackheath Gate of Greenwich Park on Sunday with the promise of visiting some of the archaeological sites in the Park with Royal Parks archaeologist, Andrew Mayfield.  This was a chance to drop our gaze from the traditional sights - the Royal Observatory and Queen Anne’s house – to souvenirs from other eras.

The programme lived up to expectation with an amble through the centuries from Roman temples to Carolingian vistas via Anglo-Saxon burial mounds and a Georgian villa.  Having lived at Blackheath Standard for 10 years, I’d often visited the south part of the Park but never recognised how much archaeology lay just below my feet!

Under Andrew’s direction, it was easy to spot the many barrows in the Anglo-Saxon cemetery.  Many were explored by antiquarians in years gone by.  The greener grass in the centre of the mounds commemorates their excavations, focussed on possible grave goods and human remains, the records for which are patchy.  Some of the barrows have vanished following other developments in the Park. 

We saw the site of a Roman temple which may have been sited near Watling Street.  The line of the road is unclear.  Some of the evidence disappeared when the cutting for the Blackwall Tunnel approach road was dug.  Andrew talked of possible fieldwork in May to explore further. 

On a grander scale, we looked at the sites of Charles II’s plans to reinvent Greenwich as the English answer to Versailles, including hiring Louis XIV’s garden designer.  The banks of the cascade down the hill have been reconstructed and should be open to the public in the summer.  You can still see some of earth removed to form the parterre garden outside the Queen’s House in other parts of the park. Dutch attacks up the Thames led Charles to abandon his plans for Greenwich before they could be completed and he turned his attention instead to Hampton Court. 

Nevertheless, the Park’s connection with Royalty continued.  Caroline of Brunswick, estranged wife of George IV, occupied Montagu House, since demolished.  Neighbouring Rangers House, former official residence of the Ranger of Greenwich Park, another Royal appointment, is familiar from many a period drama. 

All in all, an excellent afternoon with a chance to reflect on the Park’s long history and the possibility of further developments to come after fieldwork in the summer. 

Our thanks to Andrew Mayfield and The Royal Parks for welcoming us to Greenwich. Learn more about Greenwich Park.